Dario Benedetto, a forward for Spanish soccer club Elche, has the keys to the kingdom. As well as leading the line for the Alicante-based side, the 31-year-old Argentine is one of its owners.
He also can’t get a game right now. Nor can he solve any of the structural issues around him. Having parted with head coach Fran Escribá, the club that surprised many by reaching La Liga two seasons ago is unsettled. Chaotically run and saddled with a relegation fight, this is a difficult moment for Benedetto and company.
Elche’s ascent to the first division was improbable, qualifying as the lesser fancied contender via the playoffs. Since maintaining its top-flight status—only just—last time out, a second-season dip has ensued. For a team of its size, that is hardly surprising. The mechanics behind the scenes, however, are.
The man at the center is not Benedetto but Argentine majority owner Christian Bragarnik. Under his watch, fan-favorite Escribá announced his sacking before the club had—not a good look. The boss exited in embittered fashion after a defeat to Real Betis, calling out those from above. “You cannot buy the fans,” he responded—sharp words.
Bragarnik is not just any owner. He’s also a super-agent—an occupation that snowballed from a video store in Buenos Aires, according to El País (Spanish). It was there that, alongside renting out films, he found a niche in editing scouting videos for up-and-coming soccer players, culminating in his agency, Score Club 2019, which represents many South American professionals. Benedetto has since become a shareholder in the company. As soccer ownerships go, Bragarnik—once Diego Maradona’s representative—has ripped up the rulebook.
To what extent his takeover is successful will hinge on the coming games. If the disappointing scorelines persist, Segunda soccer will loom ever large and potentially leave the project in tatters. His arrival has sparked excitement, with established names like former Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Javier Pastore, ex-Marseille man Benedetto and a host of other Argentines in the team. So far, there has been no considerable uplift in fortunes.
Struggling Elche still has one of the lowest spending caps in La Liga. That won’t change if its drops to the second tier. The club has little at its disposal. Now that Escribá is gone, some of the energy that helped it escape relegation last season has evaporated. With contacts all over Argentina and Mexico, Bragarnik is not new to the sport, but with him at the helm, it’s hard to know where Elche is heading at the moment.
Compared to other La Liga teams, Elche is out on a limb. Fan power in the form of socio ownership is traditionally strong. Wealthy owners are not uncommon too. Just look at Robert Sarver at Mallorca and billionaire Fernando Roig at Villarreal. As for powerful agents? Well, that is something else, not to mention players like Benedetto.
Soccer agents are more influential than ever. When you think of it like that, the Elche show reflects the game today. The rise of the middle-men is apparent when transfer windows come around, with names like Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola often mentioned. They even make occasional media appearances.
With the right people in place, Elche has it all. In Spain, Alicante has never been known for soccer, despite having a large catchment area. Hercules, not far from Elche, previously played in La Liga but is no longer part of the conversation. Given the conditions, arriving in one of the most popular areas to invest in soccer looks like an attractive proposition. An active academy scene means it is the ideal place to nurture future stars.
Those days seem a way off, though. Elche is alive, with Benedetto a capable forward and Bragarnik, despite the mess surrounding Escribá’s dismissal, still a soccer man. To what extent his experience will translate to wins on the pitch is another matter.
One thing is for sure. The mini-Argentina on the coast is unconventional. For a struggling club not used to big-time success, maybe there is not too much to lose. To remain a first division side, it needs a strong vision—and a manager—to steady itself again, with relegation a distinct possibility. More starts and goals from Benedetto would help too.